Adapted by permission from "Something Within: For Women Seeking Balance and Wholeness."

"Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, let's... "

This whimsical old tune continues by saying, "Let's fall in love." But just beneath the surface of the words is talk about lovemaking--sex. I've been thinking about sex lately, and I'm curious what other single clergy women like myself are thinking about sex.

I can tell you what sex is not now that I have reached 50. Sex is not the mad, passionate, repeat performances it was when I married in my 20s. We could just take one look at each other and that would be enough to ignite us for the rest of the night.

Sex is also not for procreation, as it was in my 30s. Once I had had my only child at 35, surgery prevented my having others. So my sexuality had a new freedom, but so did I, as my marriage ended.

My marriage ended at about the same time I felt called to the ministry. It was a very complicated time of personal discovery. I became defensive whenever I was asked questions about being a divorced minister, about being a woman and a minister, and, of course, about what I was going to do with feeling the need for sexual relations though I am a minister.

But that was more than a decade ago. Questions about my being a divorced woman in the ministry pose less of a personal struggle in the year 2000. Besides, I can't even remember the last time I was challenged about either topic.

But in my denomination, we are held to the doctrine, "Fidelity in marriage, celibacy in singleness." At one time, I understood that to mean that if I do not marry again, I could die never having another sexual relationship.

While there have been many other questions about the spiritual life that I've posed to spiritual mentors, I have not approached anyone about this one. I don't want to appear ungodly by raising questions about my own sexuality. It's OK to seek wisdom on how to counsel someone else who is having struggles with their "physical needs." After all, "they" are expected to have questions and struggles. But I am clergy, so what's the struggle? I am supposed to have prayed away all of my sexuality.

Actually, I believe in celibacy. I tell my teenage daughter that sex is something worth waiting for in the bond of marriage. And I believe that a teenager is really too young to handle the emotional consequences of a sexual relationship. She deserves better than furtive groping in a sleazy room or a car backseat.

I also believe that I deserve better than waking up the morning after a passionate night to hear, "I'll see you later," before he leaves without even a kiss good-bye. So celibacy has an important role to play in our lives as women. It reminds us of the sacredness of our bodies. It reminds us that we must do more than feed our bodies, we must also feed our spirits.

But I must contemplate a relationship I am currently in, which I will call "a sacred friendship." I think of it as a mutually loving relationship in which both people have decided that marriage is not an option and may never be right again for either of us. There is mutual respect, shared values, a crazy sense of humor, and a deep knowing that has come from years of friendship. This relationship would be a wonderful expression of a sacred sexual intimacy. Where we go, and how far we go, are decisions only we can decide for ourselves.

At 50 years old, the answers are still not easy. Every woman and man has to decide for herself or himself. I just want to open us up to honest dialogue about a holistic sexuality. I know that when I talk about wholeness--body, mind, spirit--I want us to include our sexuality in the definition of what it means to live holistically. As we take care of our bodies by eating properly, meditating, getting exercise, and observing a spiritual discipline, I think we should talk about sexual relationships that enhance our spirituality and connect us to our whole selves, rather than negating our spirits as we indulge our bodies.

Our sexuality is more than just saying no to sex or wearing a condom if you say yes. We are both spiritual and bodily beings. And it's not always easy to translate biblical admonitions literally and have them make sense for how we should behave today. I think we should talk about it.

After all, birds do it--bees do it. Hmmm...I wonder what you think.

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